By Kennedy Mapes
COVID-19 and the lifestyle surrounding living through a pandemic continues to intensify the mental health crisis in the United States, with many literally starving themselves, struggling to find the help they need.
Eating disorders are described as disorders that involve abnormal eating habits that are threatening to one’s health and can be fatal if left untreated. There are several different kinds of these disorders. The most commonly known include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. All EDs have different characteristics and symptoms and their development could stem from a plethora of different things, but one thing they all have in common is that they can be developed both biologically and environmentally.
Some people are biologically predisposed to ED’s, meaning they are more genetically susceptible to developing a disorder due to their families medical history or to gene mutations.
Kelly Boprie, an outpatient therapist and eating disorder specialist at GR Therapy Group, a counseling clinic in Grand Rapids, discussed the likelihood of a disorder developing in those who are predisposed.
“Those who have a family member with an eating disorder, are 7-12 times more likely to develop an eating disorder,” Boprie said.
She also explained some other biological factors that could play into the development of an ED.
“Temperament and personality can be a factor as some men or women who are more rigid and obsessive in their thinking, experiencing a drive to be perfect can be more susceptible,” Boprie said. Men or women who do not experience their emotions and have a low threshold for emotional experience may turn to binge and purge behaviors as a way to suppress and avoid their feelings.”
Boprie also explained some possible environmental causes of ED’s. She explained that a person’s home environment and the way the body is viewed and talked about within the home could impact the development of an ED.
“If your family moralizes food as good and bad food, and doesn’t allow for access to all foods, a person may then begin to sneak food and feel shame around eating foods that are frowned upon in the home,” Boprie said. “If you have a parent who is chronically dieting, it sends a message that there is something wrong with their body and their body needs to change, which can contribute to the development of an ED.”
Boprie also touched on the sociocultural influences of developing ED’s. She discussed that the objectification of women’s bodies, as well as the pressure on men to be built and muscular, is enough for one to develop an ED as well.
This discussion of sociocultural influences, and society’s idea of the ideal body, prompted the next conversation about how social media could influence the development of an ED as well.
“What we see on social media impacts us. Many teens and adults spend a lot of time-consuming information online. What we view matters,” Boprie said. “Teens and adults who are viewing a feed that has unrealistic beauty and body standards can contribute to feeling less than, that our body doesn’t measure up, and plant the idea that we need to change our body to be good enough.”
She described how this is harmful, explaining that it leads people to confuse their body image with their idea of self-worth.
Gail Hall, Director of Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders in Grand Rapids also provided some insight on the connection between social media and ED development.
“Social media is a very frequent issue as a part of treatment. We strongly encourage our patients to take a break from social media, or to consider not following individuals whose (posts) they find triggering,” Hall said. “Generally any (post) that emphasizes weight, shape, diet, and external appearance are likely to do more harm than good. Our patients are often unable to see themselves accurately and will compare themselves (obsessively) to social media image.”
Eating disorders are a huge problem across all age demographics and are a mental health issue that often gets overlooked.
Hall explained that at her treatment center, they have patients who range in age from 9 to those in their 70’s and that they currently have 125 open cases.
Boprie also emphasized just how big of a problem it is and explained the importance of seeking care as soon as possible.
“EDs have the second highest mortality rate out of any mental health issue, with opiod addiction having the highest mortality rate,” Boprie said. “Early intervention is best. The sooner someone can access care the better.”
In order to ensure that those who are struggling with an ED are getting the help they need, it is important to understand what symptoms to look for.
Boprie and Hall provided a list of possible symptoms to be aware of.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Drastic weight loss
- Dramatic increase in exercise (overexercise)
- Skipping meals, eating in private, or skipping outings involving meals
- Going to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Eliminating entire food groups
- Dressing in baggy clothing to hide body
- Complaints of exhaustion while not being hungry, or constantly being cold
- Women losing their period
- Loss of hair
- Excessively dry skin
- Obsession with body image and/or fear of weight gain
The earlier a person struggling with an ED receives help, the better their chances of recovery, so it is important to understand how to identify the symptoms in order to get the necessary help and where to seek help from.
Below are the links to the websites of both of the clinics mentioned in the article above:
GR Therapy Group: https://grandrapidstherapygroup.com/therapists/kelly-boprie/